Satisfactory Progress toward the MFA

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s MFA in Creative Writing is designed to enable students to develop professional excellence in their chosen genre of creative writing, through substantial literary study and concentrated training and practice in various types of literary expression, over a two-year period devoted to the writing, reading, and teaching of contemporary literature.  Reflecting the English Department’s mission statement, the MFA will enable the most talented new writers in the country to explore, with complexity and intensity, the production and interpretation of literature and culture.

To qualify for the MFA degree, a student must complete 42 credits of course work over four consecutive semesters in residence at Madison, culminating in the completion of a book-length thesis. Up to six credits of graduate work done elsewhere may be counted toward the elective requirement for the degree, subject to the approval of the Creative Writing Steering Committee. The three workshop courses, and the pedagogy course, must be completed in residence.

The MFA degree is awarded on the basis of the student’s total performance in graduate work, as outlined below.

Grade-Point Expectations

As representatives of UW’s Department of English, MFA candidates in creative writing are expected to maintain a GPA of 3.5 or above. In addition to coursework, each candidate is also expected to pursue an independent schedule of reading and writing in consultation with their professors and thesis advisors. Any MFA who receives a grade lower than a B in any course (whether workshop, pedagogy, or elective) will be placed on informal academic probation by the MFA Director, in consultation with the Creative Writing Steering Committee. A cumulative GPA that dips below 3.5 will be brought to the attention of the Director of Graduate Studies, and may be determined to constitute “unsatisfactory progress” toward the degree, which may in turn result in a student’s scholarships, tuition remission, and/or TAship being revoked. A GPA of 3.0 or below, however, will certainly be considered “unsatisfactory progress” and disciplinary measures will be taken accordingly.

An MFA candidate may not have more than two incompletes on his or her record at any one time. Incompletes will be allowed only in extraordinary circumstances, and they must be removed within eight weeks of the following semester of registration.  If an incomplete is not removed within that time, the grade will revert to a failure unless special dispensation is granted by the Director of the MFA Program.

Credit Requirements

Each MFA must complete 42 credit-hours to graduate, and cannot take more than 6 thesis hours per semester.

  • 9 credit-hours of workshop in the candidate’s primary genre (fiction or poetry, ENGL 781 or 782) during the first, second and third semesters.
  • 3 credit-hours of Creative Writing Pedagogy (ENGL 783) during the first semester, or the third semester for Kemper Knapp Fellows.
  • At least 15 credit-hours of thesis work (3 in each of the first, second, and third semesters, and 6 in the final semester), through course number ENGL 785.
  • At least 9 credit-hours of electives (usually divided evenly among the second, third, and fourth semesters). Electives must be approved by the MFA Director. They should be graduate-level courses, or undergraduate courses numbered 300 or above.
  • 6 additional credit-hours of electives or thesis hours.

Teaching Requirements

In addition to the course work, MFA students (with the exception of AOF Fellows, Kemper Knapp Fellows, or Martha Meier Renk Fellows) will teach one course in creative writing or composition in each of their four semesters in residence. AOF, Kemper Knapp, and Renk fellows will teach one course in each of two semesters during their first or second year, as indicated in the offer letter.  Successful teaching, as determined by student and faculty evaluations of classes, is a requirement for satisfactory progress toward the MFA degree.

Thesis Requirements

The capstone project for the MFA degree is the completion of a thesis, a book-length manuscript of poetry or fiction. The thesis is the single most important requirement of the MFA, and will be an outgrowth of work done for the writing workshops and in conjunction with individual conferences. There is no oral or written examination per se, but each candidate will confer periodically with a thesis advisor during each of the semesters in residence, and will discuss the thesis with the advisor and a second reader (the advisor and said reader constituting the student’s thesis committee) before the end of the fourth semester in residence. The committee will affirm that the successful thesis represents an ambitious project of publishable quality.